Sunday 3 December
We’re already in December. After a short bus ride and quite a long walk, Arnold and I managed to arrive in time for first Sunday of advent mass. To my delight it was a sung Latin mass.
In the evening we took Harry for a walk through the beautiful centre of Amersfoort full of atmospheric Christmas lights. Wonderful to be able to walk with Harry and I was well wrapped up against the cold.
Thursday 30 November
I didn’t realise how much being without a proper home has cost me, so it will take a bit of time to recover.
Being with my brother and dog Harry helps very much. Harry was very excited when I arrived, he kept jumping up at me.
My brother is finishing his last short story workshops and, after that in the run up to Christmas, we’ll be making plans for 2024.
Sunday 26 & Monday 27 November
On Sunday evening my brother Arnold and his friend Rienk arrived in a big electric car and we had a lovely dinner in The Old Bell.
On Monday we loaded the car with my summer clothes and printer and drove to our storage place. I finally retrieved my warm winter jumpers and furry coat so that I could take them with me to the Netherlands.
Luckily the weather was sunny in the morning and it only started to rain quite heavily on our way to the Channel tunnel. After an uneventful journey, except for nearly running out of power after a Belgian charging point didn’t work, we arrived at Arnold’s home in Amersfoort at 11pm.
Last sunset in Malmesbury
Wednesday 22 & Thursday 23 November
The priest of my catholic church decided to say mass for me on Thursday which was unexpected but much appreciated. At the start and end of the mass he thanked me for my work on the pastoral council and with Churches Together in Malmesbury. Well, it hasn’t been a chore, I enjoyed being part of and serving this lovely community.
After mass, most of us went for a coffee at a nearby café, called Jackdaws, because inhabitants of Malmesbury are also known ad jackdaws.
Combining duty with pleasure is very catholic, many a church has a pub directly opposite.
I received a card with many good wishes and a bottle of red wine (how did they know this is my favourite tipple?) and an attached envelope. Only when I opened it at home, did I find out it contained a lovely card with a picture of our church plus, very unexpectedly, a cheque. A wonderful surprise and it meant I could buy new shoes (my old ones have been going every day for two years), get a hair cut and have some money to spend with my brother.
Monday 20 & Tuesday 21 November
I’m very busy saying goodbye to people in Malmesbury and I’ve started packing my few things. In the meantime I’m keeping the business going and plan ahead for when I’m in the Netherlands.
It does mean that I had to postpone the publication of new books to 2024.
The Christmas lights are going up around town and I hope this encourages people to buy more books.
Friday 17, Saturday 18 & Sunday 19 November
My last weekend at the Shambles Market in Stroud in 2023, and maybe my last market ever in Stroud. I will miss the lovely stall holders especially Ron, Wendy and Sandra.
I also will miss the chats to the lovely and occasionally eccentric customers and I put on the Christmas lights to make the stall looking even more inviting.
I wish I could have reported roaring trade but unfortunately it was not to be, and I had to take the remainder stock back to Malmesbury. Luckily public transport was working like clockwork.
And on Sunday there was a lovely rainbow, if only there had been a pot of gold at the end of it.
Wednesday 15 & Thursday 16 November
I must admit I’m counting the days until I see my brother and dog Harry. Since last Christmas, I’ve only seen my brother during the day and a half he came to collect some of his stuff from storage and I haven’t been with Harry at all. But whenever I speak to Harry he wags his tail, he is such an affectionate dog.
A bit of unexpected good news came along. Award-winning producer Colin Callander from Playground Entertainment extended the option on the film and TV rights for Hold Still for another 18 months. This means a TV or film appearance of Cherry Smyth’s wonderful novel about the muse and mistress of James Whistler and Gustave Courbet might still happen.
You can read the opening pages of Hold Still from this page and contribute to #SavedByOneBook.
Monday 14 & Tuesday 14 November
It’s a strange time, with my temporary move to the Netherlands things will change but work on our books continues except that the publication of new books has been postponed until I’m back on my feet in the UK.
There are a lot of things to sort out and this is complicated by our precarious financial situation. I’m doing my best to arrange everything to everyone’s satisfaction.
I will miss my walks through Malmesbury and I’ve always felt that autumn is a time of saying goodbye.
Friday 10, Saturday 11 & Sunday 12 November
A quiet Friday market with no sales at all was followed by a very busy Saturday market with plenty of sales. Finally people have started to buy Christmas presents.
I also heard a new excuse for not buying a book: ‘I’m too hungry to buy a book,’ a lady told me with a straight face.
Arnold got permission for me to stay with him until my new studio flat in Devizes is ready and one of his friends will drive him to come and collect me. This is excellent news because I have to clear out my bedroom and collect more winter clothes to take to the Netherlands.
This is all happening on 26 & 27 November. There is lots to do before this time but at least I won’t be without a place to stay.
On Sunday the remembrance service was held in Malmesbury Abbey and I was asked to read some of the bidding prayers. It was a wonderful solemn occasion with many local dignitaries but also felt like saying goodbye to Malmesbury. I’ll miss it.
Wednesday 8 November
All our books are such good reads and add something new to the body of literature. It’s not just me who thinks this, our website is full with quotes from good reviews. Just recently I could add the following quotes:
‘A beautifully written, totally absorbing, touching autobiographical novel that explores the journey from boyhood to manhood, from a privileged, leafy London suburb to a 70s squat in Hornsey Rise. The struggles of Jeremy’s alcoholic mother, the absence of his father, the epicurian meals, the dysfunctional suburban life, the disillusion of an emerging 70s London are all vividly interwoven with great sensitivity and tenderness, to create an uplifting story that celebrates life in all its imperfections and ends with transformation. I thoroughly recommend.’ – Anne Naletamby
For Over the Edge
‘A tough, impressive book. Such history–such histories– jammed into those taut lines. Your family’s flight from Vienna, and sorrows and strain in New York; your perilous growing up; the Syrian horrors…
It’s all striking. Your father’s story, assembled and grieved in the sequence here, is heart-wrenching, and you present it with clarity and compassion. His kaddish for you...What a turn.
I also find myself particularly gripped by A Burnt Offering. Perhaps because these last few weeks have created so many new graves, such monstrosities, which show no sign of letting up.’ – Rosanna Warren
If only people bought more of our books, I could continue, but with falling sales it becomes very hard.
Monday 6 & Tuesday 7 November
At lunch time, I took a bite from a rather crusty baguette, as you do, and I heard something snap. After a quick check it transpired that my one false tooth had broken off. It’s not enough that everything is crumbling round me but now my teeth join in as well.
I do like to smile, even in adversity, so I jolly well had to get it fixed soon. Therefore I phoned nearest the dentist for a recommendation of a dental technician. I was pleasantly surprised that the lady on who answered the phone was very helpful and recommended someone in Chippenham.
So I boarded our reliable local minibus to Chippenham, where even I who has no sense of direction, had no trouble finding the place thanks to the helpful instructions of the dental technician.
His workplace was hidden at the back of a dental practice and the doorbell didn’t work so I had to phone to tell him I was standing outside. His workplace was something out of a film. A complete mess and everything was covered with a dust of white dental material and dentures in various states of completion were strewn across all surfaces.
However he, I never learnt his name, was clearly an expert and managed to repair my tricky fragile one false tooth expertly, so that now I can smile again.
Saturday 4 & Sunday 5 November
I had an interesting journey to the market on Saturday morning. Due to upgrading work on the railway track there was a bus replacement service between Kemble and Stroud.
A luxury coach was waiting for us but there was a problem: its windscreen wipers had just packed up and it was pouring with rain. After some deliberations it was decided to drive the coach to Stroud after all. I was in one of the front seats and had a clear view of the squinting female driver, and a not so clear view of the road.
It was quite an adventure, though the driver had clearly seen it all before.
After this, the market was uneventful and rather rained off, even though it’s an indoor one, and sales continued to be depressing.
On Sunday, I had a long discussion with Arnold via WhatsApp about how to arrange my temporary stay in the Netherlands. There is a lot to sort out and with the company’s precarious financial position I hope it all works out.
To cheer me up, there was a lovely fireworks display to celebrate bonfire night which I could just about see from my bedroom window.
Friday 3 November
More developments in the rollercoaster that is my life and I’m still trying to work out how to deal with these new facts.
My Universal Credit application was closed because, so far, I wasn’t eligible for any payments, and if this happens, they only keep the application open for a set number of months, which now has been exceeded.
But I need UC to afford to rent a small place to live. However, the studio flat for which I have been accepted is not available for another 10 to 12 weeks. So at least I have time enough to put in a new UC application.
On the other hand, I cannot stay for another 10 to 12 weeks in my friend’s spare bedroom. This calls for the ultimate fall-back option and my brother and I are investigating if I can temporarily stay at his place. It is by no means certain that this is possible, and this would mean that I have to put everything on hold until I have moved into the new place which will now be in early 2024.
I had hoped to avoid this happening, but I can’t see any other way out.
Wednesday 1 November
A few sales have been trickling through but not enough, and no news on the housing situation. I’m feeling gloomy like the weather.
27, 28 & 29 October
The Friday market was quiet but at least public transport worked beautifully.
On Saturday morning my train was cancelled due to staff shortages, and I had to wait another hour for the next train. This after rushing to catch the 7.20 bus while it was still dark.
I don’t know exactly why but people are still not buying and certainly delaying starting to buy Christmas present even though the footfall is good.
At least we got another hour in bed because the clocks went back. October is nearly gone and let’s hope November brings a change in fortunes.
24, 25 & 26 October
It’s very frustrating knowing nothing will happen this week on the housing front.
However, I have been busy with lots of activities for our books, including how to set up a coupon on our website.
I’ve also been tidying the papers in my bedroom/office in anticipation of a move. I’m a hoarder by nature and it’s amazing the amount of paperwork I’ve been accumulating during the year and a half I lived in a tiny single bedroom.
Amazingly I found an old copy of my driver’s licence, dating back to when I was living in Cambridge in the late 1980s. My current driver’s licence is somewhere in storage, and I thought it had expired anyway. However, this old copy tells me it doesn’t expire until 2028. Quite a discovery.
Not that I think that it is advisable to start driving again due to my arthritis and being out of practice. I think dog Harry would also apprehensive, even though he likes a riding basket.
Monday 23 October
I’m a bit in limbo land at the moment. I’ve been told I’ve been accepted for a council flat, but I haven’t yet signed a tenancy agreement and don’t know when I will be able to move. Besides, I won’t find out this week because the lady from the housing association who deals with it is on holiday.
I’ve been thinking about what I need to retrieve from our storage and how much help I need to do this. The problem with the storage is that it wasn’t packed with the idea that Arnold and I were going to live in different countries.
Books and clothes are clearly separated, and it will be easy enough to remove the larger pieces of furniture but lots of other things such as china, pots and pans, photos and ornaments are all mixed up. So, Arnold will have to come over for the final clear out.
Time flies and I haven’t failed to notice that Halloween is almost upon us. The Old Bell, laying claim to being the oldest hotel in England, thought it is not the only one to do so, has put up it’s usual over the top display.
Saturday 21 & Sunday 22 October
I forgot to report that the rain, floods and a major traffic accident on the M4 resulted in the last bus from Cirencester to Malmesbury being cancelled on Friday. We, the three passengers, found out by calling the emergency number but they promised to reimburse the taxi fee. Thanks, Coachstyle, you do look after your passengers.
On Saturday I had a smooth journey both ways. The day started very well when a lady picked up A Diamond in the Dust from the stall and said, ‘A couple of weeks ago I bought a Travels with My Father and it was brilliant, so I now would like to give his one a try.’ After paying, she told me she would be back.
A few more sales trickled in, but business remains slow and just not for me. Even the cake stall didn’t sell out this week and Zoe gave me one of her lemon drizzle cakes. I took it to our after-mass coffee session, and it was a hit. Thanks Zoe.
I remain very tired. I think it is all the stress, and I’m afraid even England’s tight game against South Africa failed to keep me awake.
Thursday 19 & Friday 20 October
On Friday the torrential rain woke me up before the alarm at 6am. This on the day that I had to take not only my usual bag with laptop to the market but also all the books in my mother’s ancient wheelie bag. Although, being bought by my late mum, it is of course a Samsonite.
I and the bags got completely soaked. Luckily, although some of the contents were quite damp, the books were all fine.
The market day was quiet, but I was busy in the evening drying out the various bits of clothing and bags.
I was so tired that I managed to fall asleep during the second half of the Argentina New Zealand rugby match. Not that it was an edge-of-your-seat match, the All Blacks were in a class of their own.
Tuesday 17 & Wednesday 18 October
I’m not getting much response to my activities and certainly not many sales. So, it is essential to go to the market this weekend, even though I have to drag the heavy book bag back to Stroud.
I was totally fed up with not hearing anything from the housing association which is assessing me for a flat and decided to ring them again. This time the lady I needed to speak to was available and, to my surprise, confirmed that I was accepted for a studio flat. She hadn’t contacted me because she wasn’t sure when exactly the flat would be ready to move into, something to do with deep cleaning etc.
It looks I will be able to move into a studio flat within a couple of weeks’ time. But after all this toing and froing I won’t really believe it until I have signed the rental agreement.
The flat is in Devizes, a market town I have only once driven past, it will therefore be quite a new experience, but I am looking forward being able to work again at my father’s old desk dating back to 1951.
Monday 16 October
Someone in our local community facebook group posted that she is looking to rent out a room. It may be an opportunity to stay in Malmesbury so I messaged her. She replied that she will send me details. I still haven’t heard from the people who are still assessing me for a council flat.
My brother had to take our dog Harry to the vet because he noticed a patch of infected skin. The vet said it needed treatment because it would spread rapidly and become painful. The back of Harry’s head doesn’t look so good, but Harry is his normal self and my brother’s wallet is a bit lighter.
Saturday 14 & Sunday 15 October
Not the best of weekends. My friend and her son went away for the weekend and on Sunday morning I found out there was no hot water. A problem with the boiler which could only be fixed when they are back on Monday afternoon.
Of course, this happened just when the temperature dropped because the central heating also didn’t work.
I did find another sympathetic ear and someone who understood my situation and will let me know if he hears of anything that can help me with my housing situation.
A new week is about to start, and I live in hope that things will start to look up. In the meantime, it is very quiet on the sales front, so please don’t forget to encourage friends to buy a book from our website.
Thursday 12 & Friday 13 October
I contacted the organisation which rents out the property for which I am being assessed and they told me the process is still ongoing. I just wanted to make sure I hadn’t missed any communication. If they do decide after all that I cannot afford it, they’re taking an awful long time.
This weekend I had the opportunity to take over a pitch on the Mynt market in Salisbury. I was looking forward to selling our books on a new market. Alas, it proved not to be possible to get there in time and back on the last bus.
So, no market this weekend and I miss Arnold and our old Fiesta who took me so swiftly to and from markets.
Wednesday 11 October
Still no news on the housing situation except that I’m still being assessed for a small studio flat. This whole process has been going on for two weeks. A long time when you are waiting.
So, for the moment I still live in the town with the Abbey church in which the first English King Athelstan was buried. Was, because indeed he was by his own wish, but they later lost his bones, hence his tomb is empty.
Tuesday 10 October
I checked with Yael Politis, author of The Lonely Tree and who lives in Israel, to find out if she and her loved ones were all safe and I was glad to hear that they are. However, one of Yael’s friends, who needs daily insulin injections, has been captured by Hamas and her son has been shot. Terribly sad.
If you want to get a feel of what Israel means to the people who live there and why they are fighting for its existence, you should read Yael’s The Lonely Tree. It follows Tony and her family from the 1930s to the 1970s in first Palestine and then Israel.
‘I believe that you will find not a single dull paragraph in this entire work. It is a gripping insight into the psyche of several different kinds of person, a vivid account of the forces that drive both human idealism and human destructiveness.’ – Gold Dust magazine.
On the other hand, Diaspo/Renga which started as an email conversation between two poets: Marilyn Hacker and Deema Shehabi was triggered by the invasion of Gaza in 2009.
‘Peace grows from the interweaving of voices, and it’s hard to imagine two more aware and unmistakable poetic voices on the subject of peace in the Middle East than these: Hacker and Shehabi, two brilliant witnesses, one unswerving and crystalline, the other infused with memory and dream.’ — Annie Finch
Both books are available from the website.
The previous diary got too big, so I had to start a new one. You can read previous entries here.